Eimverk Distillery Iceland
It’s the holidays and a short break is needed. Unfortunately I’ve chosen the wrong place to look for grapes as I am off to Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. This is a breathtaking land of ice and fire: long winters, frozen lakes, spouting hot springs called geysers and big woolly jumpers which dot the otherworldly, volcanic landscape now familiar to all Game of Thrones fans. Around three-quarters of the island is barren of vegetation; plant life consists mainly of grassland, which is regularly grazed by sheep (sheep out number Icelanders almost 3 to 1).
Iceland’s national spirit is Brennivín. Its potency has earned it the nickname ‘black death’. It is a type of schnapps distilled from potato mash and caraway seeds and well known for washing down the taste of the putrefied-shark dish, hákarl. This spirit is only brewed in Iceland and only in one distillery! Imagine then my relief when I read that Iceland also has a booming craft distillery culture!!
The Icelandic climate has only twice in recorded history allowed for decent amounts of grain – first during settlement times, and now, due to global warming. The early settlers grew and brewed barley into mead and ale, and after barley production died down, schnapps or potato vodka became the drinks of choice for Icelanders. Now, with barley production growing again, that equation has changed. I contacted Eimverk Distillery ahead of time and they invited me to visit on one of their afternoon distillery tours.
Arriving at the small distillery in an industrial estate on the outskirts of Reykjavik, I was greeted by CEO Halli Thorkelsson, an extremely personable, dry-witted, entrepreneur with a huge passion for his family run distillery.
The distillery has already received critical acclaim for their gin named Vor, which got a Double Gold Award at the 2014 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
But we’re not here to just to just praise their gin, we’re here to taste their whisky as well, which is the first of its kind to be made in Iceland. What a pioneering spirit they have! Halli and his brother Egill wanted to see if they could make their own whisky, just for the fun of it. So they started to experiment with a small still and after more than 160 different recipes, learning the ropes along the way, they found one in 2009 that their friend’s and family’s feedback was worth pursuing.
Everything , since then, has sprung from there.
THE GEEKY STUFF
Eimverk gets most of their grain straight from the family farm. It’s 100% organic being exposed to nothing but the harsh Icelandic winter. With a shorter growing season, the barley with its low starch and sugar content, concentrates the flavours. The second ingredient, water, is a commodity that Iceland has in abundance and is so pure has no need to be treated – it comes straight from the tap!
Halli goes on to explain the inspiration behind their range of gins “Again we wanted to stay true to our heritage and only use native Icelandic ingredients. Vor, their small batch, barley-based, pot-distilled gin contains nine botanicals, wild picked Icelandic juniper, crowberries, birch leaves, thyme, Icelandic sea kelp and organically grown rhubarb and kale.
One variant is barrel-aged in first-fill virgin white oak barrels to give the gin a slightly woody, smokey character.
The surprise tipple of the day was their very pleasant `aquavit – Viti –
dominated by caraway seeds and dill perfect as a digestif and awarded a Double Gold at the San Fransisco World Spirits competition. Pall, the charismatic, smooth-talking Sales and Marketing Manager took us through a wonderfully entertaining and informative tasting and tour.
You get a real sense that the bold, pioneering, yet down to earth nature of Iceland is alive and kicking here at Eimverk. It’s still very early days for this young distillery so it would not be fair of me to compare its products to the more established distillers yet I do believe given time, these super-cool, passionate and friendly mavericks will mature into one of the Iceland’s main attractions.
Their Young malt is called Flóki, Rating (4/5*) named after the first settler in Iceland and has a toasty, buttery oak aroma and tastes of oak leather and brown bready maltiness with hints of caramel shortcake honey and vanilla.
Their most unusual take on whisky however comes in the form of their “Sheep Dung” Whisky. “We wanted to make a whisky to emulate the peaty flavours of Single Malt but in Iceland we do not have any peat” said Halli “ The water in the ground is almost permanently frozen so it cannot form. The early settlers used to burn sheep dung to generate warmth. This sh*t is really good sh*t!!” He says with a smile. The barley is smoked over the burning dung to give it sweet almost green smokey notes which compliment the intensity of the barley. You may even find vanilla and white pepper.
Three farms Bjamholt Farm Eimverk family farm where they smoke their sheep dung for the smoked barley reserve , Porvaldseyri Farm and Sandholl Farm
FLÓKI – ICELANDIC SINGLE MALT WHISKY. Rating (4/5*)The distillery , for the first time in Iceland , has a 3 year old Single Malt. Their Single Grain Icelandic Whisky was released in a limited bottling in November 2017. Carefully distilled and made from 100% Icelandic barley and matured on ex-Young Malt barrels which have been mellowed by the maturation of our Young Malt.
3 year old Single Malt,Rating (4/5*) Single Grain Icelandic Whisky will be released in a limited bottling of our very first 3 year old casks in November 2017.
Carefully distilled and made from 100% Icelandic barley and matured on ex-Young Malt barrels which have been mellowed by the maturation of our Young Malt.
VOR – SMALL BATCH (L) Rating (5/5*) Vor, Icelandic for spring is a premium pot distilled gin from a 100% Icelandic barley base.
In a delicate third distillation native botanicals are added to perfect an authentic taste of Icelandic summer. Juniper Berries, Rhubarb, Crowberries, Angelica Root, Birch Leaves, Creeping Thyme, Iceland Moss, Kale and Sweet Kelp 100% are all grown locally and complement each other to produce a fresh and vibrant gin
Vor is a New Western style Gin with heavy botanical notes that compliment the sharp notes of juniper and the sweetness from our barley base.
VOR GIN – BARREL AGED RESERVE (M) Rating (4/5*) A special reserve edition of Vor Small batch gin which has been aged on new wood american oak barrel for a sweet and smoky gin with intense botanical notes.
This is truly a whisky drinkers gin as it is made from a new whisky base which is then re-distilled with our selected native botanicals’ and oak rested for a period of 2 months.
Perfect for sipping neat on the rocks, for martini’s or for an intense gin and tonic.
VOR GIN – SLOE STYLE RESERVE (R) Rating (4/5*) Following the tradition of Sloe Gin making in UK we have developed an Icelandic variation by using the available native berries. mixing blueberry and crowberry juice for a sweet and subtle sloe style gin. Perfect for sipping neat or in various cocktails.
VÍTI – ICELANDIC PREMIUM AQUAVITE Aquavite Rating (5/5*) also called Brennivín in Iceland has a dominant flavour of caraway seeds and is the traditional spirit of Iceland.
Víti is triple pot distilled using a small batch distilling unit. This method gives a truly unique spirit base from the Icelandic barley and allows all essential oils from the native botanicals to be carefully preserved during the distilling process.
Visit Aquavite for more info on Víti Brennivín.
So the tasting with Pall went through 3 whiskeys and 3 gins as well as the aquavit. I wasn’t quite expecting the sheep dung to taste as it did- slightly reminiscent of soil and not at all smokey. Probably a lesson that I learn from wine tasting is never believe what you’ve learnt or what your heart says – taste and assess. The sheep dung whiskey was smooth with a gentle earthiness. This was a great addition to the distillery. The three year old (a first for 🇮🇸) was smooth also.
So as you can see from the photos that were taken over a four-day period Iceland is something else. You have all of natures wonders at your doorstep. Only 3 hours from London , probably 5 from New York and all set in spectacular scenery. Not many places encapsulate all that Iceland has to offer – rugged landscape, world-class restaurants , cultured, cool and trendy and welcoming people. Surely a bucket list country.
And don’t forget the Northern Lights!!!
Music Pairing for Eimverk Distillery – Enjoy sitting in a club chair, a favourite glass and fill with Folk or Vor – relax and press play !
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